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3 Women on Re-entering the Workforce

February 03, 2017 | Filed in: The MM Forum

Welcome to the MM Forum, a new series in which we invite readers to share the challenges, triumphs, and paradoxes of their lives as professional women. Every few weeks, we choose a new theme, and ask people to send us stories and musings that stem from it (you may choose to be anonymous, if you like). We then publish a selection of those submissions here on The M Dash. 

This week, three women from the MM community share their stories of re-entering the workforce after taking time off. We invite you to weigh in with your own experiences in our (new!) comments section, below.

For the next topic, we want to hear about the time you quit in a huff. (Those of us who haven’t are a little bit jealous.) What happened, and how did it go? Are you glad you did it, or do you regret it now? Please send your stories and thoughts (however brief or extensive), to by Tuesday, February 21.

The Short Break That Turned Into 6 Years

I never thought I would be someone who stayed home full-time with my kids. I worked in Washington, DC, as a healthcare lobbyist after law school and really enjoyed my work. However, my husband is a physician and had to move to another city for a fellowship when I was six months pregnant with my oldest daughter. We moved together and I agreed to take a short break from work, since it didn’t make sense for me to look for a short-term position and childcare while pregnant. I assumed I would be able to find a new position once his fellowship ended and we found a permanent home.

We ended up moving back to New York, where I grew up, but where the job market for my skills was very different. While I very much wanted to go back into the workforce, I was unable to find any position that matched my skills with something I actually enjoyed or paid well enough to cover the costs of childcare. For several years, I kept an eye out for jobs and networked with my colleagues in DC. Then, my old employer offered me work as a part-time contractor working remotely. At the time, I was pregnant with my younger daughter and was able to have a flexible schedule for work I really enjoyed. After a while, I began looking for a full-time job in earnest. It took almost an entire year, but I found a job that fits my background, issues I am passionate about, and has a schedule that works for my family. I rejoined the full-time workforce this past fall after six years. It’s been an adjustment for our whole family, but it feels wonderful to be back and able to regain this part of myself. I love showing my daughters that you can have a career and a family, although perhaps not the way you planned!

(I should also say that when I got my new job, the first thing I did was buy a few pieces of MM LaFleur.)

—Julie, government relations analyst, New York

The Health Issue That Forced Me to Slow Down

In fall of 2015, I left my role as a product manager at a Fortune 100 company to take care of myself after having some health concerns. Up to that point, I was rising through the corporate ranks at a breakneck speed, working constantly at the expense of my relationships and personal time. I had graduated from college with honors and earned my MBA at the University of Chicago. I was highly involved in charitable organizations, alumni associations, and other groups. To my friends and colleagues (as they tell me now), I seemed super-human, like I could do anything and everything. But I felt nothing of the sort. I was teetering on the edge for a while, barely taking care of myself.

Life has an interesting way of forcing you to take the turns that are necessary, and before I knew it, I was living a completely different life than the one I had planned so precisely. I have an amazingly supportive husband who helped me through what I now fondly refer to as my “transition year.” After a complete health nosedive, I went from an overly driven, robotic-like being to a person with an identity that extended beyond my career. I learned to appreciate progress instead of explicit achievements. I discovered that pace is an important tool in managing your life. I stopped comparing myself to others and just focused on my abilities. After all, when you are forced to focus on the immediate issue at hand for an entire year—in my case, health—it helps you home in on what matters most and forget the rest.

I always wanted to be the person who could do it all, but now I know how to lean on family, friends, and service providers. I started concentrating on the areas where I could be most effective and, where possible, outsourced the rest. I am fortunate to have returned to work in the same place I left off, but this time, with a lot more help from others.

—Alyssa, senior supply chain manager, Cleveland, OH

Digging Out of the Post-partum Spiral

Five years ago, I was working for a small consulting firm in Chicago when I had my second child. He was born prematurely, and has a rare blood disorder that means he needs a lot of extra care. At the end of my maternity leave, it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going back to work. I had liked my job, but it wasn’t the kind of place where you could leave at 5:00 p.m., and I knew it would be a struggle to manage my son’s health needs while meeting the demands of the office culture. Looking back, I wish I had tried harder to work out a compromise and ask for more flexibility, but at the time, I think I was too scared that they would just say no. I resigned, and figured I could find part-time consulting work once we figured out adequate childcare.

I didn’t anticipate how difficult being a stay-at-home mom would be, or the effects of post-partum depression. My husband did his best to be supportive, but he was also stressed by the financial burden of being the sole breadwinner, which made me feel guilty. He’d come home late and I’d be ready to tear my hair out. My previous ambitions for a part-time job seemed laughable when I couldn’t even find time to shower between a three-year-old and an infant. I was insecure about my body and none of my old work clothes fit. I felt trapped.

Six months turned into a year, which turned into two years, which turned into three. My son’s health was up and down, and he had several stints in the hospital. One day, a friend asked if I was okay, and I burst into tears. She put me in touch with a therapist who helped me realize that I actually could go back to work if I wanted, and that it might help me feel like myself again (and fund the childcare help that we needed). I contacted two of my former colleagues to find out about potential opportunities, and ironically, they needed a temporary contractor to pitch in while two other women in the firm were on maternity leave. I said I was available, but only if I could leave every day at 3:00 p.m. to be home to administer my son’s medication. They said yes! The trickiest part was finding that elusive childcare unicorn, but after an exhaustive search, we hired a wonderful woman who’s been with us ever since.

After my temporary contract was up, my company asked me to come back permanently. I didn’t know if I could work a full-time schedule, but I figured I’d give it a shot. That was almost two years ago, and I’m hanging in there. It’s definitely not easy, but I think it’s working as well as it could. My stint as a stay-at-home parent gave me a whole new perspective on work—I enjoy it more than ever now, and I’ve also learned to be more assertive about what I can do and what I can’t.

—Sarah, management consultant, Chicago

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